The Greens’ Bid to Control Agriculture

green beefI have been in the Senate for thirty-one years. All that time, I have defended and promoted primary producers. They are wonderful people, feeding and clothing our nation and many more people overseas, generating vital wealth for the bene­fit of all Australians.

However, they are under threat. That threat comes in the form of a long-term strategy by a powerful and sophisticated combination of environmental zealots and major corporations that would effectively control primary production practices worldwide.

One example that is causing debate among Australian primary producers is the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, an organisation created by the World Wildlife Fund, or World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF.

WWF internationally has a strategy it calls Market Transformation. A couple of years ago, WWF Senior Vice-President of Market Transformation, Jason Clay, explained what WWF does:

We convene roundtables—meetings of all the members of a commodity’s value chain—everyone from producers, traders and manufacturers to brands and retailers, as well as scientists and non-governmental organizations. Together we agree on the key impacts of producing a commodity—deforestation, water use, and so on—then design standards to minimize these impacts, which are ultimately certified by an independent third party. The participants publicly commit to producing, buying and selling within these standards, to be part of the commodity roundtable, forming a chain of sustainability.

WWF’s priority commodities in its “market transformation” strategy include beef, cotton, dairy produce, farmed salmon, farmed prawns, palm oil, sugarcane, timber, tropical prawns and tuna.

Australia has already had third-party certif­ic­ation imposed on some fishing and forestry operations. Australia’s fisheries are some of the best managed and most sustainable in the world, but WWF wants them all signed up for expensive third-party certification schemes through its Marine Stewardship Council.

Then there is WWF’s Forest Stewardship Council, designed to force forestry companies into third-party certification. Again, this process requires expensive assessments and auditing, again paid for by the producer.

And, now, we have the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef wooing Australian cattle producers or, more accurately, wooing cattle producer representative bodies. Recently, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef published its draft principles and criteria. Heed my warning: once any organisation signs up to these principles and criteria, they will be locked in. Producer bodies involved in the Beef Roundtable process should think long and hard.

I recommend that primary producers looking at the draft principles and criteria document from the Beef Roundtable also take a look at another one of WWF’s roundtables—the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The palm oil roundtable has principles and criteria—first established in 2007 and revised in 2013—that will sound familiar to people who have examined the Beef Roundtable document. However, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil also has two certification schemes. Both systems involve third-party certification bodies. Again, producers pay the bills.

I have been told time and again that there will never be any certification scheme under the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Sustainability will be “verified” somehow but not “certified”. Let me ask cattle producers a simple question: proof of sustainability requires expensive third-party auditing and certificates in the WWF schemes for the forestry industry, for the fishing industry, for the aquaculture industry and for the palm oil industry. Why would it be any different for the cattle industry?

There is a co-ordinated campaign by WWF and other NGOs to coerce industries into certification schemes. They use a “good cop, bad cop” technique—where someone like Greenpeace is the bad cop and WWF is the good cop. That behaviour has been well documented.

Does it work? Yes. JBS, the world’s largest meat processor—with around $40 billion a year in sales worldwide—was savagely attacked by Greenpeace over the source of some of its cattle in Brazil. Have a look at a Greenpeace report called “Slaughtering the Amazon” from 2009.

After another attack in mid-2012—claiming JBS was buying cattle from deforested regions in the Amazon, a claim the company denied—JBS said it would take Greenpeace to court for defamation. However, urged on by Greenpeace, the UK grocery chain Tesco cancelled its meat contract with JBS, and five other European supermarket customers of JBS threatened to do the same, while the IKEA furniture chain threatened to cancel its contracts for leather. JBS dropped its legal action against Greenpeace, deciding it was easier to side with these environmental activists than sue them, and is now also working with WWF on its Global Roundtable scheme for beef.

This is a common story. For example, in 2008, Greenpeace protesters dressed in orang-utan suits stormed Unilever’s headquarters in London and factories in Rome and Rotterdam, protesting about the sources of palm oil. They climbed buildings, occupied production lines and unfurled banners—familiar Greenpeace tactics. Unilever quickly promised to use only verifiable sustainable palm oil and has become one of the companies involved in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. And so it goes.

Management of primary production is being taken away from producers and from elected governments by non-government organisations. They are doing it by means of environmental conditions enforced by corporations.

This trend was encouraged during the six years of the previous Labor government. That government was in effect a Labor–Greens alliance, and Labor surrendered to environmental lobbyists time and again. Labor refused to speak up in defence of the sustainability of Australian primary production. But they went further than that. They promoted the idea of primary producers signing up to expensive WWF schemes like the Marine Stewardship Council and they backed Greenpeace.

In reply to a question I asked Senator Ludwig, then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in March last year, he promoted the idea of fisheries joining the WWF’s Marine Stewardship Council, and he praised companies that teamed up with Greenpeace to put more controls on the timber industry.

It is time the Australian government re-asserted its legitimate role in management of primary production. And this goes further than just primary industry, important though that sector is to the Australian economy, with $50 billion in earnings every year. Control of other resources is also at stake. For example, environmental activists are trying to control mining. It is well known that a number of activist groups are completely opposed to mining, particularly coal mining.

In 2012-13, minerals, oil and gas contributed $75 billion to the economy of Queensland alone, some 26 per cent of the state’s gross domestic product, of which coal contributed more than half. These resources were responsible for more than 430,000 jobs in Queensland—almost one in five jobs in the state. WWF has launched a campaign directly opposing development of port facilities that will allow coal and other minerals to be exported efficiently. Its current “Fight for the Reef” campaign is the usual WWF anti-development, anti-jobs campaign, with wildly exaggerated claims about dangers to the Great Barrier Reef.

This is another example too of WWF enlisting corporate organisations to get involved. Unilever, which is the world’s largest ice-cream manufacturer, with a turnover of $7 billion a year worldwide, has run a campaign through its Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream brand that directly supports the WWF Barrier Reef campaign. If this campaign succeeds, it will severely restrict the ability of the Queensland and Australian governments to generate vital earnings from coal and other minerals.

WWF and other environmental activists are increasingly trying to dictate what can and can’t be caught, harvested, grown or mined in Australia. WWF is hardly subtle or secretive about its strategy. It is spelt out on WWF’s own website. It says that, rather than trying to educate seven billion consumers or improve the practices of 1.5 billion producers, the most efficient way to effect change is to work with the world’s largest companies.

Internationally, WWF has identified about 100 businesses that together buy and sell 25 per cent of the commodities with the greatest impact on WWF’s priority products. They estimate this demand can shift 40 to 50 per cent of global production, and so those are the companies they are targeting. But, as WWF says, these are not the producers but the middle-men. They are the companies that take the product from the producer to the consumer, like McDonald’s and Unilever. Beyond this, it also targets banks and other financiers of major projects. WWF says it targets these businesses “to change the way global commodities are produced, processed, consumed and financed worldwide”.

If any individual representative group from various commodities—be it beef, fishing, forestry or even mining—thinks it can handle WWF alone, then think again. WWF is an organisation with a turnover in the hundreds of millions of dollars and 5000 staff spread across offices in sixty countries. It is a huge multinational business with enormous resources. What’s more, it is handling the likes of roundtables and stewardship councils every day. What it learns from dealing with one commodity it can apply to the next. And what it learns in one country, it then adapts and refines and improves and applies in other countries.

By contrast, producers are often developing responses on the run, responding as best they can to a sophisticated, well-rehearsed strategy from WWF.

I want to emphasise this point. Our fishermen, our timber companies, our cattle producers are amongst the best in the world at catching fish, harvesting timber and producing cattle. But individually, none of these groups can handle an organisation as powerful and sophisticated as WWF. It has countless lobbyists, lawyers and other staff round the world focused the entire time on developing schemes to manage primary production, mining and other activities.

I call on everyone involved in productive toil in our primary industries to tackle this issue. Work together, and with the Australian government, to retain the influence you should have—and deserve to have—over the way your industries operate.

Producers have a fundamental knowledge of how their operations should be conducted. Government has the scientists, economists and resource managers to assist producers. Together, they can guarantee sensible, rational, sustainable management of this nation’s natural resources.

Senator Ron Boswell delivered this speech in the Senate on May 14. He represented Queensland and the National Party in the Senate from 1983 until his retirement at the end of June, 2014.


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